Emily Mackil | Assessing the Scale of Property Confiscation in Ancient Greece

Abstract

This paper challenges the prevailing view, influenced by the New Institutional Economics, that secure property rights contributed to the economic growth of the period c. 800-300 BCE. Property security is a difficult condition to measure in any historical context. I approach the problem for ancient Greece by utilizing a Monte Carlo simulation to estimate the frequency with which private property was confiscated in the Greek world in the Classical period (circa 480-330 BCE). I identify three major mechanisms for confiscation: exile; expulsion by a foreign power; and the imposition of a cleruchy. The model suggests that the average estate owner faced a mean 10.5 percent chance of experiencing confiscation in his lifetime. The conclusion suggests some possible responses by the Greeks themselves to the imperfect property security they experienced. The paper is offered both as a substantive intervention in current debates about the Greek economy and as a method for pursuing quantitative analysis in a context of data scarcity.


About the Speaker

Emily Mackil is Professor of History at the University of California Berkeley and the Director of Berkeley's Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology. She is the author of Creating a Common Polity: Religion, Economy, and Politics in the Ancient Greek Koinon (2013), which won the Goodwin Award of Merit from the Society for Classical Studies. She is the author of numerous articles on ancient federalism and the ancient Greek economy. Her current book project, Property and the Polis, explores the changing discourses and practices of property ownership in the ancient Greek world and their political, legal, and economic implications.

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